Prediction: Wolverhampton Wanderers vs Liverpool
Best odds: 27/10
Wolverhampton Wanderers and Liverpool are set to play the second of their three clashes within a one-month span on Tuesday, when Wolves welcome the Merseysiders to Molineux for a replay of their FA Cup third-round encounter after it ended 2-2 at Anfield on January 7th.
It’s been a dire season for Wolves – even the most optimistic among their supporters cannot look away from that fact. They are firmly locked in the relegation battle and have only managed to rise above the danger zone on Saturday, when Daniel Podence scored the only goal of the match against West Ham.
Those three points have taken Wolves up to 16th place in the Premier League, where they sit with 17 points to their name at the moment, one more than Bournemouth in 17th, and two more than the whole relegation zone, consisting of West Ham, Everton and Southampton.
Looking at the run of last six matches Julen Lopetegui’s men have played, it starts with a 1-2 win away to Everton, Then they lost 0-1 at home against Manchester United and drew 1-1 away to Aston Villa. Then came the 2-2 draw at Anfield, and between that and the home victory over West Ham, both already mentioned, they played a 1-1 draw away to Nottingham Forest.
It seems Wolves have started gathering their act together and marching in the right direction, but troubles appear reluctant to stop following them. The latest problem Lopetegui faces is an apparent fallout with winger Goncalo Guedes, who was left out of the squad for the West Ham match and whose future appears highly uncertain at the moment.
Given the situation at hand, it appears highly unlikely that Guedes will be given a chance to repeat what he did just over a week ago – score against Liverpool.
Lopetegui also has to make do without a number of long term absentees – wingers Chiquinho (knee) and Pedro Neto (ankle), midfielder Boubacar Traore (unspecified), and striker Sasa Kalajdzic (knee), as well as veteran Diego Costa who could return to action next week after picking up a knock.
Midfielder Joao Moutinho also picked up a problem in the West Ham game, though he hasn’t been ruled out completely as of yet.
Some believe Lopetegui might rest goalkeeper Jose Sa in this match and give Matija Sarkic a chance as he did at Anfield, but given the situation Liverpool are currently in, frankly, it seems far more likely the strongest possible team will be named to start on Tuesday.
Therefore, Sa should be in goal again, with the back four of Nathan Collins, Toti Gomes, Jonny Otto and Nelson Semedo in front of him. Matheus Cunha could revert to his midfield role, pairing up with Ruben Neves and with Rayan Ait-Nouri and Adama Traore out wide. Further up, Raul Jimenez should start, with either Podence or Hwang by his side.
Things have gone from bad to worse from Liverpool after they got a proper thrashing away to Brighton and Hove Albion on Saturday. At the moment, they look completely disjointed. They’re constantly being outrun and outmuscled in the middle of the park, and it repeatedly puts their defenders into difficult situations which they often cannot deal with.
This has been the story of the season for the Merseysiders, and one way or another, manager Jurgen Klopp needs to find a solution to those problems quickly. As things stand, his team sit in ninth place with 28 points. The race for Champions League qualification is all but over for them and it seems they will be lucky to play in Europe at all if things don’t change. Claims have begun appearing that at any other club, the situation would warrant a sacking for the manager, but Klopp surely has plenty of credit left. After all, Liverpool have won every trophy on offer since he took charge in 2015.
Liverpool’s last-six run in all competitions includes a 3-2 defeat away to Manchester City in the Carabao Cup, a 1-3 win away to Aston Villa, a 2-1 lucky win over Leicester City at home, a 3-1 defeat away to Brentford, that 2-2 draw against Wolves and the 3-0 thrashing received from Brighton at the Amex on Saturday.
This last game once again highlighted all the problems plaguing their midfield section these days.
To be fair, Klopp can be excused to an extent by the fact that he has a number of attacking players missing from the squad and it has been going on for a while. Luis Diaz (knee), Diogo Jota (calf) and Roberto Firmino (calf) are all absent, and the list has grown longer by a hamstring injury picked up by Darwin Nunez. Midfielder Arthur Melo is also out, as is defender Virgil van Dijk (both hamstring).
On the other hand, midfielder Stefan Bajcetic is expected to be back in contention for this match after recovering from a knock on the hip.
Alisson Becker will be in goal, with Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson likely to start on the defensive flanks. Joel Matip and Ibrahima Konate could start again in the heart of defence, but Joe Gomez will also be hoping for a place in the lineup. There could be a reshuffle in the middle of the park with Naby Keita and Harvey Elliott both eager for a chance, and the same goes for Curtis Jones. Fabinho will probably start again as the ‘6’, but the other two spots remain open.
There’s very little choice upfront, so unless Klopp decides to go with 17-year-old Ben Doak, it’s likely the trio of Mohamed Salah, Cody Gakpo and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will remain unchanged.
As has been said, Wolves have finally stabilized their performances and started moving in the right direction, which is a lot more than can be said of Liverpool. On the other hand, there’s definitely a “sleeping beast” feeling around Liverpool. Their quality is still vast, and if Klopp can find a way to work through the problems and solve them, we might be in for a furious second half of the season.
But it doesn’t look the time for that has come just yet. Another draw and a penalty shootout might be as good as it gets for both sides.
Best odds: 27/10